How much political power do different billionaires have?
Power is a relational concept, and a billionaire’s power therefore needs to be evaluated within the political context (s)he’s operating in. We rank the billionaires according to how powerful they are within their political community – usually, but not always, their home nation. A billionaire acting on the world stage, e.g. Bill Gates in Global Health, is being analyzed at that level.
This implies that a highly political billionaire in a small country with few other billionaires may reach a higher ranking than a much richer billionaire in a larger country where there is more competition for political influence. A different – but more complicated – ranking would try to rank billionaires according to their global power in absolute terms (which we don’t attempt).
Since the billionaires’ context varies so much, we establish no composite power ranking. By default, the billionaires are ranked by wealth, but our power table is sortable:
Just click on the type of political influence that interests you, and the ranking gets reordered according to your choice!
How do we establish our political power scores?
Our scoring is not a rigorous mathematical calculation – it represents our subjective judgement, based on our research, comparative analysis and collective discussions. When we think about power, an important distinction is between “power potential“, which relates to the various forms of capital someone owns, and “power exercised“, which is about using one’s resources in order to realize one’s goals vis-à-vis others. We put greater emphasis on “power exercised”, but try to take “power potential” into account, too. This is why our scoring is mostly based on the billionaire’s current power; but political engagement in the past is also taken into account (to a lesser degree), as it reflects power potential in terms of accumulated experience and established networks.
For example, Jeff Bezo’s ownership of The Washington Post would get him a relatively low score in “opinion shaping”, because, despite great power potential, so far, he does not seem to intervene in the newspaper’s editorial line – unlike Rupert Murdoch, who is known to push strongly for conservative agendas in his media empire, and thus would score very high on “opinion shaping”.
In forming our evaluations, we’re asking the following questions:
How active is the billionaire in campaign financing? (weighted strongly)
Has the billionaire been running for and/or holding public office? (weighted strongly)
Has the billionaire been making public endorsements regarding the election or appointment of public officials? (weighted lightly)
Advocacy & Lobbying:
Is the billionaire engaged in public advocacy campaigns? (this overlaps in part with “opinion shaping”)
Is the billionaire lobbying lawmakers and public officials, either personally or through hiring professional lobbyists? (weighted strongly)
How extensive and how high-level is the billionaire’s network of political contacts?
Does the billionaire own and/or control influential media outlets? (weighted strongly)
How great is the billionaire’s public profile (e.g. celebrity status, twitter followers)?
Does the billionaire fund research with the objective to influence public opinion?
How much money has the billionaire donated to philanthropic causes?
Does the billionaire try to keep control over the organizations that receive her/his donations?
How relevant is the billionaire’s philanthropy for public policy? (weighted strongly)
“Wealth, as Mr. Hobbes says, is power. But the person who either acquires, or succeeds to a great fortune, does not necessarily acquire or succeed to any political power, either civil or military. His fortune may, perhaps, afford him the means of acquiring both, but the mere possession of that fortune does not necessarily convey to him either. The power which that possession immediately and directly conveys to him, is the power of purchasing” (Adam Smith)